Strength For Today

A journey of keeping my heart, mind, and body in TODAY

Intentional Sacrifice

Related words and definitions for Intentional:  

conscious (awake and able to understand what is happening around you)

deliberate (to think about or discuss something very carefully in order to make a decision)

intended (in your mind as a purpose or goal)

knowing (shrewdly and keenly alert)

purposeful (having a clear aim or purpose)

Sacrifice: the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone

Intentional Sacrifice.  Talk about two words that I never imagined would bring a girl like me joy!!  Yet, the idea of intentionality is one that excites me!  I think perhaps it is because I rarely did anything with intentionality in my past.  I just went through life by the seat of my pants, so to speak.  I was like the chaff, blowing this way and that. (But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Psalm 1:4)

If the concept of intentionality was one that was far from my heart, then you could say that the concept of sacrifice was nowhere in the vicinity of my life!  I did not understand what a true sacrifice was.  In my past, my idea of sacrifice – was giving up candy for about 2 weeks of the 40-day stretch of lent, or not eating meat (if I remembered) on Fridays, or letting my children watch their shows on TV over me watching mine.  I had NO IDEA of what a sacrifice truly was!  Not only that, but I didn’t understand that a true sacrifice, was one offered up with a heart of JOY and GLADNESS, not begrudgingly.

Oh, the Lord has instructed me in His ways!  What a Great and Mighty Father we have!  He has shown me the heart of true sacrifice by expressing to me how deeply He loves His Son, yet how willingly He offered Him to me, as the ultimate sacrifice for my sin!  Since becoming a true follower of Christ, I am of the understanding and absolute BELIEF, that He would have sacrificed no less than everything, even if I had been the only human on the face of this planet!  What kind of love is that???  It is the kind that I want to have.  I want to lay my life down for the sake of my friends.  I want to put my needs and desires at the foot of His cross, and let Him do as He pleases with me!  I desire nothing more than to completely yield myself to Him, in all areas of my life!  Oh what a beautiful life I have today – and on the days when I choose to yield completely, on the days when I hand the reigns to the Lord and don’t take them back, oh – those days are by far the most amazing and glorious days I have ever known!  And it all boils down to intentionality.  I have to be intentional about my choice to lay it all down – to sacrifice all, for the sake of His GLORY, and my good.

Looking at the related words and definitions for the word intentional, it is clear to me why it excites me!   I see the words awake, understand, clear, decision, think, carefully, alert, and purpose.  That’s exactly what God has done for me!

He has awakened my soul, granted me a clear understanding of His leading, so that I can think carefully, remain alert, make good decisions, and achieve the purpose for which He created me!

And how did I get to that point?  How did I go from chaff blowing in the wind to a woman who stands awake and alert, clear-minded and aware of His presence, His leading, His purpose?  How does a transformation like that happen?

Intentional Sacrifice.  Daily.  Even more than daily sometimes.  

When I stand before my Lord, with my palms open and my heart available….He moves.  When I quiet my soul, open the eyes and ears of my heart and say “Yes Lord”…..He speaks.  When I intentionally lay my life each day, at the foot of His Cross, and let Him move me…..He leads.  And life becomes full of purpose.  A beautiful, purposeful, love-filled life!  And there is NOTHING I would trade it in for.  Nothing.  Not even on the hard days.

Intentional does NOT mean easy.  It means ON PURPOSE.  I sacrifice my personal wants, desires, and ambitions to the Lord with a joy-filled heart each day….not because I think He is going to give me what I want….but because I know that only He knows what I need.

 

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Love Journey: Do The Next Right Thing

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 

This verse speaks volumes to me about why my first marriage fell apart.  The first half of the verse:  Do not repay anyone evil for evil is unfortunately where I chose to place most of my energy during that relationship: I was always on the “pounce”, acting out in some form of retaliation for the level of “wronged” I felt by my husband at the time.

I was married to a hunter.  Do you know what it means to be married to a hunter?  Not only was he a hunter, he was also a fisherman (and not your let’s fish for a few hours kind of fisherman, either – everything was an excursion).  So, it was always either “duck season”, or “ice fishing season”, or “dove season”, or some sort of “season”.  And if he wasn’t actively participating in the hunt, he was planning for it, or preparing for it, or talking about it.  I used to call “hunting and fishing” his mistresses.

Did I ever mention we have 3 children?

So, I bet if you did the math, you can figure out who was left to take care of the children, the house, the meals, etc. – while he was out on his excursions.  Yep.  That would be ME.  And that would be back in a time when I thought living in a constant state of “discontent” was just what normal relationships were like.  It was during a time when all I thought about was myself, how I felt, what I needed, and what I wasn’t getting.  And, let’s face it – my needs were not being met by this man.  So, I was always angry.  I was always acting out in anger – sometimes directly toward him, sometimes passive-aggressively in other ways.  But, unfortunately, there was constantly a “he owes me” in the back of my mind, or an “I deserve to have some fun too” rationalization in my head that prompted me to do some of the most unloving things you can imagine during the course of that marriage.  Believe me – I am not proud of how I behaved in that marriage.  When I look back at it with the new pair of glasses I have today, I see how very many unloving choices I made during the course of those 8 years.  I absolutely recognize that it was not all my fault.  I know that each of us played a very significant role in the destruction of our marriage relationship.  Each of us had a part, each of us had our own “side of the street” to look at.

As seems to happen far too often in our society, my ex-husband and I took our relationship to a point where it was irreconcilable, and we ended up divorcing.  There was a line that was crossed where just too many hurts had happened, too much pain had been inflicted, and the love was just too far gone.  Sometimes, I have found, that you have to remove yourself from toxic relationships in order to understand what love isn’t, before you can wrap your mind around what love IS.

I have gone through a lot of healing in regards to the places I used to dwell in my past.  I have dealt with my “side of the street”, looked deeply into my actions, asked for and freely given forgiveness for wrongs committed.  Sometimes I have received forgiveness for my actions, and in some cases I have not.  Unfortunately that is out of my hands.  I can only own my part, and I can only do my part.

By far, the most significant change in me, is my submission to the Lordship of Christ.  This was a decision that I made in 2011, to follow Him and let Him show me who I was and who I am.  Let me tell you, it has been one of the most amazing adventures of my life – complete with major highs and incredible lows.  I have cried, I have rejoiced, I have mourned, and I have celebrated.  But most importantly, I have healed.  I have been freely given the amazing gift of God’s Grace and Forgiveness.  I bask in the truth that it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.  I have changed.  Where I spend my time “digging” has changed.  The way I live my life has changed.  The way I love has drastically changed.  I am eternally grateful for these things.

At this point on my journey, whenever I stop to consider the way I used to live, I am tempted to fall into the abyss of guilt, remorse, and self-pity.  I am not proud to see the woman I used to be.  Which is why I share it with you.  The life I used to live, I lived apart from God.  I never once spent time looking at myself in light of who God called me to be.  I never once stopped to reflect on the way my behaviors made Him feel.  Maybe you are in the same boat.  If you are, I would like to offer you encouragement.  Your past (even 5 minutes ago) is behind you.  There is nothing that is stopping you from making a decision to exit the life you are living and enter the life He has created for you.  Sometimes, like in my case, this involves a physical “exit” from the life you are leading.  Sometimes, it is just an emotional “exit” – a change in the way you are perceiving your life.  More often, the emotional transition – from my way to His way has been the “exit strategy” with the most significant impact on my walk with Him.

But, I digress.  I am supposed to be studying verse 17 of Romans, chapter 12:

 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Perhaps I didn’t fall away from the path God wanted me on tonight so far after all.  I read these words, and I realize that this verse is a verse I cling to in the way I live my life today.  There is nothing loving about living a life of constant “retaliation” (even if I really have been wronged in some way).  There is love in keeping my side of the street clean, regardless of the way other people treat me.  Love keeps me doing the right thing, even in the face of others doing the wrong thing.  Love doesn’t dwell on the way others treat me, but rather on the way I treat others.  Love IS doing the next right thing.  This truth brings me to another set of verses on this topic that I really feel expresses God’s heart for the way we are called to BE love:  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Again, this is another set of verses that could be unpacked at some point, but for the purpose of today – notice that Love is an action, a choice, a state of being – incredibly deeper than just a mere feeling.  Oh we serve an amazing God, and HE IS LOVE.  How wonderful that He is taking the time, to gently guide and direct me (and you) down this path from what I thought love was, to the TRUTH of what Love is.

REFLECT:

Are there areas of your life where you are acting out of “retaliation”?

When you read 1 Corinthians 4:13, what does your heart tell you about the way you love?

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Love Journey: Living in Harmony

 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 

There is a lot to unpack in Romans 12:16.  I considered breaking it up, but I feel it is important to look at the entire verse as one command:

I believe this verse states that love is a choice to  be at peace with each other.  Let’s take a look at the individual words in this particular verse.

harmony: I found several definitions for harmony which appealed to me in the context of this verse.

a :  pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts

b:  correspondence ( a direct relationship to or with something or between two things)  accord (to bring into agreement :  reconcile (to restore to friendship or harmony )

 c:  internal calm :  tranquillity (free from agitation of mind or spirit)

“with one another”: This phrase illustrates the togetherness of love.  The we, the us.  I believe this phrase is a powerful reminder that relationship cannot exist in isolation.  Therefor, neither can love.

proud:  having or displaying excessive self-esteem  (While self-esteem is the way of the world, Jesus calls us into a deeper reality where too much self-anything leads to dissension in relationship; the adversary of love)

willing: quick to act or respond : doing something or ready to do something without being persuaded

associate: to join as a partner, friend, or companion

with: used to say that people or things are together in one place

“people of low position”: I found one translation of this phrase as “people who are humble”.  I really feel that particular translation speaks to the heart of this.  It would make complete sense that Christ would call us to enter into relationship with people that are “humble”.  One definition I like of humble is “Thinking more about others than I do about myself”.

conceited: having or showing too much pride in your own worth or goodness

(All definitions courtesy of http://www.merriam-webster.com)

Here is what I take away from this verse after spending some time unpacking its elements:

Exist in relationship with one another that is free of agitation of mind and spirit. Do not show excessive self-esteem, but instead be ready to join together with people who are humble.  Do not show too much pride in your own worth or goodness.

God is showing me so much about what it truly means to BE love.  If I ever wondered how I’m doing in my relationships, I am finding Romans 12:9-21 to be a mirror that I can spend some time looking in and end up seeing my true reflection.

I recognize that the only One who can do any of this perfectly is Christ Himself.  I realize that I am a constant work in progress.  There are areas that God is growing me in, areas that He has done an amazing redemptive work, and areas that are left to be transformed in His time.  I am so grateful that He loves me, and that He shows me how to be love to those around me!

REFLECT

When you look into the mirror of verse 16, what does your reflection look like?

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Love Journey: Rejoice and Mourn

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

I have yet another sad “truth” to admit about my past behavior patterns.  I used to have a serious  issue with envy.  As I reflect on life today, I can see that God has done a great redemptive work in that area.  It wasn’t always so.

I used to look around me constantly.  I looked at you.  I looked at what you wore, how you carried yourself, what your hair looked like, the clothes you wore, how you talked, what you talked about, how you lived, where you lived, what car you drove, how much money you had, and of course (can’t forget this one) what size your body was and how attractive you were.

I was constantly looking at you.  Before you wonder what kind of freak I am, staring at you in such an intense way….let me explain why I did it.  I was never satisfied with me, and I longed always to be you….whoever “you” might be.  You always had it better than I did.  You always looked better than I did.  You were always more attractive, happier, had it more together, wore better clothes, lived in a better neighborhood, drove a nicer car, and talked about such a wonderful life. My heart would swell as you would talk about the wonderful things you had….swell to the point of explosion….with envy, bitterness, resentment, and self-pity.  I know, such ugly words.  But true.

I was the most discontent person I knew, and I was convinced, that YOU were the most content.  So, whatever you had, I wanted it.  And I wasn’t going to stop until I had it.  So, I manipulated my circumstances to try to match what I thought they were supposed to be.  I manipulated my relationships, I manipulated my own thinking….just so I could line up with what you seemed to be.

And if you had something wonderful happen in your life….forget about it.  My slight envy turned into to full-blown jealousy.  I could NOT be happy for you, because it meant that things were looking worse for me.  And…if something unfortunate happened in your life, I actually would feel better inside, because my situation started to look better.  Oh…what a very sick and twisted way to think, to feel, to BE! And “YOU” were the very people in my life that I was supposed to be LOVING!!!

Let’s just stop here, and look at verse 15.

What does this verse tell me about LOVE?

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Rejoice:  To feel or show great joy

Mourn:  To feel or show great sadness

With:  used to show that people are TOGETHER in one place

Right here, in this very verse….sits the heart of WHY I was constantly discontent with my life.  It’s the ugliness of comparison.  Continuously comparing my life with yours, left me always feeling an emptiness inside that could NOT be filled by anyone or anything (TRUST ME:  I tried it all!). In fact, the only satisfaction for that emptiness, the only cure for the constant ache of comparison….lies NOT in the acquiring any material possession, but ONLY in the unconditional love of ONE PERSON: Christ Jesus Himself.

What does Christ say about love?  What example did He set for us when He walked this earth?  He walked in a constant posture of humility, always being WITH His people, sincerely devoted to them, honoring them above himself, doing life WITH them….right alongside.  He rejoiced WITH his friends(the wedding at Cana) and mourned WITH them as well (the death of Lazarus).  Christ shows us that true love exists WITH others, not separate from them.
When I was constantly comparing myself to you, I could only exist on the outside of your life….I was separate, isolated on the island of “Self”.  And love cannot exist in the vast darkness of isolation.

So, what is my “take-away” from this passage in the context of love?

REJOICE when those I love rejoice!  Experience joy WITH them on their journey.  Sincerely find happiness in the success of others.  Support, encourage, and LOVE them through their happy times!  MOURN when those I love mourn.  Experience sorrow WITH them on their journey.  Sincerely enter into the grieving, the pain, the difficulties WITH them.  Support, encourage, and LOVE them through their hardships.

I have found that when I isolate myself from others, and only look at how their success or failure affects me…. I will was never able to experience and show the true depth of love that the Lord commands of me.

I have also discovered that when I ENTER into others’ lives in a sincere and loving way, when I let their pain become my pain, and their happiness become my happiness, the love that Christ commands of me is a natural by-product of the experience.  No effort necessary.

REFLECT:

Am I envious of anyone?

Do I sincerely enter into the joy and hardship of others in my life?

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Love Journey: Bless and Do Not Curse

14 Bless those who persecute you;bless and do not curse. 

Let me be totally honest with you.  This is tough.  Being a truly loving person demands being able to love those who are difficult to love.  I remember when I first started recognizing that I needed to be praying about this area of my life.

If it were up to me, I would just love everyone!  I desire that, I truly do.  What I have come to understand, however, is loving everyone is not an easy task.  It is, however, commanded of me by  God.  There are so many verses on this topic, but one verse has been particularly convicting for me over the past few years:

Matthew 5:43-48 ESV

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

So, I am supposed to love others.  That used to boggle my mind a bit more when I thought of love as a physical feeling rather than a state of being.  You may wonder what I mean about love as a state of being.  The best way for me to explain that is to look at scripture.

1 John 4:8 demonstrates this Truth beautifully:

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Notice it doesn’t say that “God is loving. Rather it says that God IS love.  He is love.  And we are called to be love too.  I think that is what God is trying to get me to see through this study.  I think He is revealing to me that I am still seeing this “love thing” all wrong.  Earlier in the study of these verses, I defined love as an intentional choice to exist in relationship.  That is definitely a piece of love….but I’m not sure it really defines love as God wants me to understand it.  I believe that I am missing a point here.

I am not called to simply be loving.  I am called to be love.  I am called to be a representation of God’s heart to others here on this Earth.  I am called to be in relationship with others, yes….but I think it is deeper than that.  God isn’t just showing me how to exist in a loving relationship.  He is showing me how to exist in love.  Period.  Just love.  Those three words are triggering something in me:  God is love.  God is love.  God IS love.  GOD IS love.  GOD IS LOVE.  What is it about this that is setting my heart to burn…to yearn….to crave….something…deeper than I have now???  I am not 100% sure right now…but I am going to follow this lead.

14 Bless those who persecute you;bless and do not curse. 

So, in the light of being love, this takes on a new feel for me.  Love IS blessing others.  Even more than that…
LOVE IS being a blessing to others, regardless of how they treat me.
So…..it’s not that I’m commanded to be perfect (because we know that none of us are).  But, I am commanded to be love.  And love is many things….it is far bigger than an emotion, even far bigger than a choice…. LOVE IS A STATE OF BEING, and there are many ways to BE LOVE.
1.  Be sincere.
2.  Be focused on the good in others

3.  Be devoted to one another

4.  Be placing others before yourself

5.  Be continuously growing in your relationship with the Lord

6.  Be joyful in Hope

7.  Be patient in affliction

8.  Be constant in prayer

9.  Be generous with time, talents, and resources

10.  Be a blessing to others, regardless of how they treat you.

So, of course this all applies to being in a loving relationship as well.  IF both parties are consciously choosing to BE love for one another, then the relationship should be an absolutely beautiful place for both parties to be. Yes, I believe these verses do speak to relationship – so, I haven’t been all wrong.  But I think I may just be scratching at the surface of something much deeper that God is trying to show me….
The whole purpose of this blogging journey is to daily reflect on my life.  And if I am being honest with you all right now, there is one person that I am having a terrible time at this whole BEING LOVE thing.
That person is me.
Until this very moment….I hadn’t realized that this lesson God is teaching me about love, may have much less to do with how I treat others in my life….and perhaps more to do with how I treat myself.  I am not sure exactly where this new insight will go – but that is what I feel God speaking to my heart right now.  I am doing a pretty good job (most days) at being love in my relationships … but not such a good job inside my own head and heart when it comes to me.  To Dawn.  Hmmmmm…..definitely something to pray about…..and see where God takes me next.
REFLECT:
1.  How does this concept of love as a state of being settle in your heart tonight?
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Emotional Triggers

I am currently involved in a study called “Made to Crave”, which surrounds the idea of craving God more than I crave anything else in my life.

I want that to be a true statement.  No, I long – yearn desperately for that statement to be TRUE!

I tell myself it is true.  I say, “Yes, God!  Anything you want from me, and I am in!!” —  and I truly think I mean it.  Then, something will happen:  I wake up late, or I have a stressful morning, or I have a stressful afternoon, or the kids aren’t listening, or I’m missing my fiance, or I get bad news somewhere along the line….the list can go on forever.  Whatever “it” is, something happens.

Yesterday was a day of somethings.  I didn’t wake up late, but our morning was stressful. My daughter slipped on the ice as we were leaving, fell down the stairs, got soaked, had to change – and as a result, we missed the bus, I had to drive my children to school, and I was late for work – where everything seemed to be falling down all around me, I couldn’t get my mind to center on the place I was, the stress mounted, and I was left feeling restless, irritable, and discontent.  And all I could think of to “solve” my emotional turmoil???  FOOD!

Really Dawn?!?!?!?!?!?

The thing that creates the biggest frustration for me, is that I was aware of my intense craving for food to satisfy.  My awareness was key and I actually battled well for most of the day.  Until I didn’t.

Sugar.  When I am in emotional crisis (or at least my brain thinks I am, and sends this ridiculous craving “to be comforted “to my stomach) I think about sugar.  And when I allow myself to give into that thought, I instantly want more – the phenomenon of craving instantly develops.  So, yesterday, I ate a piece of chocolate.  Seems harmless, right?  Well, the piece of chocolate led to an “Airhead”, which led to another, which led to a craving for more.

I got home, where some spaghetti was waiting for me with some delicious tomato sauce (both contain sugar).  I started eating and couldn’t stop.  Not until my stomach wanted to burst.  And, if you have been following my journey at all, you know what happened next.  Following that moment, I instantly started searching the house for more sugar.  Anything.  I would have eaten it.  It wasn’t until I was so tired that I couldn’t stand it – that I finally fell asleep.  But, not without first beating myself over the head emotionally.

Really Dawn?!?!?!?!?!?

I want that to be a true statement.  No, I long – yearn desperately for that statement to be TRUE! I love the Lord, and I want to crave Him above anything and EVERYTHING else in my life!

It is apparent to me that I have a long journey ahead of me.  Just when I think I might be making some progress, old triggers pop up – and I see that I am still reacting the same way I always did – when I am not spiritually fit.

I think that is the key.  Starting my day off by strengthening my heart and mind with God’s Word.  I didn’t do that yesterday.  Reflection is everything I hope.  So, today, I am choosing something different.  I am choosing to start my day by focusing on God, and MAKING Him the center of my morning.  Whatever comes my way, I can face it through Him.  If my emotions trigger a CRAVING, I am going to intentionally choose the Word, because my reactions are still to choose food.

I pray that this journey creates within me a desire so intense for God, that one day I just automatically go to Him for everything.  Just so you don’t think I am a total downer….I want you to know that I have come a long way.  I am nowhere NEAR where I used to be, but still so far from where I want to be….so, I guess I will just keep my feet in today.

Matthew 6:31-34 is my “armor” for today:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’   For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do no worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Yes, I leave you this morning…. SEEKING HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS FIRST!!!

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Love Journey: Practice Hospitality

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.   Romans 12:13

I want to start this off with a quick recap of the first few items we have unpacked on this beautiful journey toward becoming a more loving person in relationships….

1.  Love must be sincere.

2.  Cling to the good

3.  Be devoted to one another

4.  Honor each other above yourself

5.  Continuously grow in your relationship with the Lord

6.  Be joyful in Hope

7.  Be patient in affliction

8.  Be constant in prayer

Today’s verse, Romans 12:13, states that part of being loving, and existing in a relationship is to share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

At first glance, I found myself thinking “What does this have to do with being in a relationship”?  So, I can see how practicing hospitality would be a good thing for someone to do.  I can see how it would tie into being a more loving person. However, seeing as I have felt that God has called me to these verses specifically to teach me about what it means to exist as a loving person in the context of relationship….I find myself wondering if this particular verse has anything to do with that, or if I am stretching it way beyond the intended meaning.  Maybe you agree with me in that?  I would ask you to just hold on for one second.

After that initial thought crossed my mind, so did my first marriage.  And following the glimpses God gave me into that relationship, he also gave me glimpses into my current relationship with my fiance.

In the context of sharing with people who are in need and practicing hospitality, as it relates to the health of a relationship.

And I saw something.  I saw how my former husband and I did not choose to engage in sharing with people in need.  I saw how we were selfish with our money, our time, and our possessions.  I saw how we would borrow from other people, and not repay in a timely manner.  I saw how we would lend something out, but never with a generous heart.  I saw how we would feel “bothered” if we were asked to help out a loved one or a friend, or even how we (and yes I am embarrassed to admit this) would sometimes make up excuses not to help out another.

But wait, I saw something else.

I saw how Ash and I have engaged in selflessly helping others so many times in our relationship that I can’t recount every instance in this one post alone.  I saw how a passion that both Ash and I share is in generously giving of ourselves, our resources, our money, and our time to others in need.  I also saw how we have continuously grown in this area over the past 3 years!

So, when I look at this verse again: Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.– in light of the two experiences I have had, I would say that this verse is absolutely true.  Relationships are more loving when BOTH people make a decision to be generous with their time, resources, resources, and love!

REFLECT:

1.  Are you a generous person at heart?

2.  When you give, do you do it with joy?

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Love Journey: Joyful in Hope

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 

In a love relationship of any sort, affliction is the norm rather than the exception.  What exactly is an affliction? It is something that causes pain or suffering.  Every relationship goes through it.  Let’s take a look at how God tells us to handle our afflictions in our relationships.

1.  Be joyful in hope.

joyful: feeling, expressing, or causing great pleasure or happiness

in: one definition I found struck me: expressing the situation of being enclosed or surrounded by something

hope: 1. a feeling of expectation or a desire for a certain thing to happen  2. A person or thing that may help or save someone.

Unpacked:  Express great pleasure in being surrounded by a feeling of expectation for a person that WILL save us: Our Savior – Christ!

Notice that it doesn’t say “express great pleasure because your situation is a good one” or “Express great pleasure because there is no pain”.  No.  The first part of this verse clearly says that our pleasure should come from ONE place:  Christ.  Amen!

2. (Be) patient in affliction

Patient: able to wait; slow to lose one’s temper

in: being surrounded by something

affliction:  something that causes pain or suffering

Unpacked:  Be able to wait; be slow to lose your temper when surrounded by pain or suffering.

3. (be) faithful in prayer

Faithful: loyal, constant, steadfast

in: another definition I came across:  expressing a state or condition

prayer: communion with God

Unpacked: Be loyal, constant, steadfast in a state of communion with God.

So, if I am understanding these beautiful words correctly, then God’s desire for us when we meet with afflictions in our relationships is this:

Express great pleasure in being surrounded by a feeling of expectation for a person that WILL save us: Our Savior – Christ!  Be able to wait; be slow to lose your temper when surrounded by pain or suffering.  Be loyal, constant, and steadfast in a state of communion with God.

Yes, God absolutely knows what He is doing.  These are exactly the words I needed to have impressed upon my heart tonight.  I was praying for some encouragement tonight, as I embark on a very deep and meaningful – yet incredibly difficult fast….  These words are it.  Encouragement to stick through the difficulties by remaining joyful in my hope, patient in my pain, and in constant communication with HIM!  Amen!!  Thank you God!

REFLECT

1.  Do you find JOY in knowing that Christ is your Savior?

2.  Do you find it easy or difficult to wait on God during seasons of uncertainty in your relationships?

3.  Do you remain constant in prayer during both good and difficult times in your relationships?

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Love Journey: Serve the Lord

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

I would like to recap a few things before I get into today’s Roman’s 12 verse!

First of all, I just wanted to make sure I reiterated that I am not teaching anything from a point of “self-knowledge”.  God is showing me what it means to be a truly loving person through my study of these verses, and what comes out of my head and on to this screen is exactly what I am currently learning from the Lord.  By no means, do I feel like I “have it all figured out” or even close to that!  I am a divorced woman, who was – quite frankly – an awful wife to my ex-husband.  I did not know even the slightest thing about what it meant to truly love someone.  I was also not walking with God during that marriage.

As I prepare for my upcoming 2nd marriage in July, God has been calling to me to learn about what it truly means to be a godly wife, and a loving person in general.  What I am learning is humbling me to a whole new level.  God is so gracious in that He is not condemning me for my past failures – but rather strengthening me and building me up for my future relationship with my soon-to-be-husband.  I am so incredibly thankful to be on this journey with both the Lord, and you!

The second thing I want to do is to touch on what He has shown me so far from Romans 10: 9-21 about what it means to truly love: (Love – a CHOICE to exist in relationship with another person….romantic or otherwise)

1.  Love must be sincere.

2.  Cling to the good

3.  Be devoted to one another

4.  Honor each other above yourself

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Zeal, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something

I think God is showing us here, that one of the key ingredients to a great loving relationship is to develop and maintain an enthusiasm for serving Him, for growing spiritually – both individually, and as a couple or friendship or parent/child relationship, etc.

I have to admit, that this would have NEVER crossed my mind in the life I lived prior to beginning my walk with the Lord.  I probably would have looked at the words in that scripture and asked “What on earth does that have to do with love?”

Today, I have experienced this exact verse in a very tangible way.  I’d like to share a story with you about a friendship that I have.  Today, it is an absolutely amazing and beautiful friendship, a relationship that I couldn’t imagine living my life without. It wasn’t always that way.

My friend Jen and I have been in each other’s life for about 13 years.  We met while working, and became fast friends.  The thing that brought us together and was the “glue” that bound our friendship, was the fact that we both were constantly complaining about our husbands.  I know this sounds harsh (and exactly the opposite of the purpose of this study – but just hold on a sec….) but it is true.  Every time we came together, we would end up talking about how our husbands irritated us to no end, how our marriages were  places of constant discontentment and disappointment, rather that a place of love and security like they should have been.  We loved the fact that we weren’t alone, and this simple fact kept us together in a relationship for a long time.  I mean, we start relationships with people (outside of our immediate family) because we share commonalities, right?

Anyway, I moved to a new location for work, and our friendship began to wane.  We would come together every now and then, picking up right where we left off.  Eventually, we found out that we both were having our first child at the same time.  After that point, our kids kept us together.  Our friendship was surface at best.  We discussed the problems in our life, our husbands….but that is as deep as it went.  Months would go by without contact sometimes.  One day, after a particularly long time not talking, I emailed her.  It turned out that she was pregnant with her second child and going through a divorce.  I wish I could say I was there for her.  I was not.

Eventually we both ended up divorced (Shocked?  Didn’t think so), and the craziest thing happened.  I had already started the process of recovery and was invested in developing a relationship with God.  I called her one night and she came over.  We talked about where are lives were currently at, and we realized that God had kept us together for a purpose, and began to wonder what that was.  We started slowly seeking a relationship with God together.  We began to pray together (very uncomfortably at first), read the Bible together, go to worship concerts, and get together more often than we ever had before.  God was pulling us together.  We joined a Bible Study together, and eventually became prayer partners.  We now talk daily (or almost daily), have continuously grown in our relationship with the Lord and each other, have shared every part of our lives with each other – are accountability partners for each other, and have developed a friendship that is unlike any I have ever known.  I couldn’t imagine life without her.

I just had the honor of performing the Maid-of-Honor duties at her wedding this past November, and she is going to be the Matron of Honor at mine in July.  God has done amazing things with our lives, with our children, and with our friendship.  Why did our relationship suddenly plunge past the surface and into the deep places of the soul?  Simple:  We placed the Lord first.  We enthusiastically pursued Him and continue to pursue Him more deeply, both as individuals and in our relationship.  Each one of the 4 previous points in this study….yep those things are there too.  There is something very real to what God is revealing to me during this time of preparation for marriage.  I pray that the things He is showing me, will touch the hearts of other relationships, too.

REFLECT:

1.  Where is your zeal?  Is it for God, or for something else?

2.  What relationship are you focusing on in your mind/heart when you read these words?

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Love Journey: Honor One Another

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves

The first part of verse 10 calls for us to be devoted to one another.  The word devoted paints a beautiful picture of an attitude of compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love toward one another.

Being devoted to those you are in relationship with is a choice.  A beautiful choice.  A right choice.  A loving choice.

The second part of Romans 12:10 calls for us to honor one another above ourselves.  Let’s unpack the first word first. Honor.  A word closely related to honor, and in fact part of the definition of honor according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is respect.  In unpacking the next two words “one another”, we can see that this respect is to be mutual.  And when looking at the words “above yourselves”, this speaks to me of being humble.  Philippians 2:3 supports this:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in  humility value others above yourselves.

So, when I completely unpack this 2nd half of verse 10, I see this:

LOVE IS:

Respecting each other and putting the needs of the other above the needs of self.  In other words, in order to show love to my spouse, I should be respectfully placing his needs above my own.  And vice versa.

Think about that for just a minute.  If both parties in a relationship are valuing each other’s needs above their own….if both parties are acting in a manner of respect and putting the others’ interest ahead of their own interests… what a beautiful place that would be.  I mean, honestly, how could a relationship go wrong if both people are placing the needs of the other person above their own?  So, with the divorce rate being as astronomically high as it is (yes, I am a statistic in that value), would it be realistic to think that this whole element of “honoring one another” goes against the grain of society?  I would venture to say yes.

The world teaches us to strive for our own good.  The world teaches us to preserve and protect our interests.  The world tells us that we are here to be served by others, not to serve one another.  The world…the world….the world.

The more I think about the worldly view of love, the more I begin to understand the brokenness that currently surrounds marriages.  I mean, we are taught daily that we need to fight for our cause, we need to stand up for ourself, we need to speak our mind, advocate for our best interests, and to stand toe-to-toe with any man or woman who disagrees with our views.  That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for respect and honor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think “love” when I think about the way the world has taught me to exist in relationship.

I mean, I guess I used to call that love.  But, love was always so elusive to me.  I didn’t understand love beyond the emotional and physical feelings I could tangibly experience when I was with another person.  In my mind, love equated a feeling.

A perfect example is in how we view sexuality in our society.  When two people are in love, the world teaches us that it’s perfectly fine for them to be sexually active.  And I used to agree.  Used to.

I’ve since come to understand that sex is not a game to be played. Nor is it simply an expression of how much I care about another person.  The act of sexual intimacy is a very deep and very real bond between a man and a woman, created by God, designed for the covenant of marriage.  Well, I missed that boat.  But I pray my children don’t have to.  I grieve not fully understanding this Biblical meaning of love as I was growing up.  I grieve not knowing that by choosing not to have sex until marriage, I would have actually been choosing to honor both my body and my future husband. That is something I can never take back.

can choose to honor my body and my future husband now, however.  I can also choose to honor God in the way I treat my body and my relationships.  These are choices I still have today.  I am incredibly thankful for that.

REFLECT:

1.  How do I honor the people I exist in relationship with?

2.  In what ways am I selfish in my relationships?

3.  What does honoring one another above myself  look like in my relationships?

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